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On Thursday 7th December 2023, the LGA hosted a webinar to explore your ‘best kept secret’. Data that’s locked in your systems is limited and only valuable to the service that collected it. By linking the data, you can increase the efficiency of processes as well as gain more insight about your area. This webinar will help you understand how this is possible, using data you probably didn’t know you already had.

Speakers included:

  • Juliet Whitworth, Head of Research and Information, Local Government Association
  • Peter Fleming OBE, former Leader, Sevenoaks District Council and former Chair, LGA's Improvement and Innovation Board
  • Dr Catherine Howe, Chief Executive, Adur and Worthing District Councils
  • Nick Chapallaz, Managing Director, GeoPlace

    Location data – the best kept secret in local government

    Everything a government does, involves creating – or using – data. That means all councils have an incredible pool of information at their disposal. What’s more, in every one of our local authorities, there’s at least one member of staff who’s responsible for creating an important part location data, specifically the address and street data that underpins every aspect of a council’s services.

    Best kept secret - arrows image

    In ‘Your Best Kept Secret” – a webinar organised by the LGA – attendees were introduced to the vast benefits available by tapping into this invaluable resource.

    Juliet Whitworth, Head of Research and Information (Local Government Association), set the scene by explaining that internal information can be exponentially increased in value by linking it to other sources of insight – using location data as the ‘link’. Once connected, thereby revealing new insights, it’s much easier to increase the efficiency of processes and understand more about how better to service residents and businesses, and target resources more effectively. In addition, many authorities may not realise they have ‘address and street custodians’ on hand, in each authority, to help achieve this.

    Peter Fleming OBE, former Leader, Sevenoaks District Council and former Chair, LGA's Improvement and Innovation Board, reflected on how far local authorities have come over the last decade. But it is time to understand more – to automate with confidence, perhaps, and use automation wherever possible for the business-as-usual tasks so that we can focus on improving what we do, for everyone, everywhere. That means using data effectively to solve the simple problems (things like multiple instances of the same person or business on a database), and then moving on to tackle the more pressing challenges in society, like supporting vulnerable people and the homeless, or even helping to mitigate climate change.

    Unfortunately, the data to hand isn’t always in the best shape for us to use it. Peter explained this with a simple example: “Anyone who has children coming up to primary school age or remembers the stress of trying to find out what catchment area you're in will know the importance of information about which schools are available. Lists on local council websites aren’t always that helpful, So in Kent, a programmer used location as the key to unlock that insight – he put all of the data available on a map, on which people could drop a pin to see which catchment areas were close to them and then check out the admissions policies.” This is one of the most basic applications for using location data – narrowing down services for the most appropriate audience.

    On a different level, location data has the potential to unlock huge amounts of resources that are currently being deployed by default. In Boston, for example, an accelerometer in people’s phones provides a geo pin every time someone goes over a pothole – there’s no need to report potholes, the app can be running in the background. Ultimately, that fuels a constant trickle of information to the local authority that’s authoritative and effects efficient use of highways’ resources.

    Peter went on: “Recently, we started having what I call a golden conversation with people who were coming in to speak about housing benefit. We took the opportunity to use the data they gave us, to say ‘there's a possibility that you may want to also look at these things as well’. When you're taking tentative steps into map-based database, it’s important to build at human scales, to start with people, and build up slowly. There’s a huge amount of possibility, we need innovation more than ever, and location data is one of the strongest building blocks for effective in local government.”

    Dr Catherine Howe, Chief Executive (Adur and Worthing District Councils), continued the session by talking about data-driven activity and the temptation to develop things that are too complex, too fast. There's a real danger with data-driven activity that councils end up thinking they’ve created a panacea, and solved a particular problem for the long term – but society changes. Data on its own is just that ... the key to success is building data-sources in as constant streams of information. Location data is a resource that enables authorities to build more resilience into our communities, enabling people to problem-solve for themselves.

    Using data to see challenges more clearly

    ”At the moment,” said Catherine, “we're tending to use data as a means to lean into difficult conversations about budgets, but we when we properly interrogate it, we can see problems through different lenses. We can gather insights in a very different way. We see financial data, for example, as being something quite separate to other things but it can tell us huge amounts about our own organisation as a budget holder, and unlock possibility for robust change that’s determined by sound decision-making. How do you extract the data from the systems you've got, and turn it into something that provides a coherent picture? You do need support, you need to engage internal resources and link cross-department data to capital programmes – understand where you need to invest in physical objects, look at a community with a top-down view. Use the data to answer questions like, ‘where are we physically investing?’ and ‘are we mending things and making them better, or not?’”

    She continued, citing a very basic but common challenge that is a great example of bringing physical context to data-use: dog waste bins. “We're looking at QR codes on dog bins. I know it's the most boring bit of the Internet of Things you could possibly imagine (and it’s not really Internet of Things because it's a QR code rather than a tag) – but the thing is, we’re not just looking at how to make an object data-rich but also how we can use that information for better service delivery flow.”

    Better use of location data at the granular household level, and at the asset level, enables a community and an authority to work more collaboratively. “By using data effectively, we can be sure we're getting upstream, getting to people before they need us, even.” For many people, peer-to-peer support is the best answer to common health and welfare issues. “Neighbours caring for neighbours is something we all valued massively during the pandemic, and it's something we could be designing into public services – but we can only do that safely if we’re really clear on which people are most vulnerable, and where the people who need help most, are.”

    Empowering any organisation involves getting the right tools in place and having the right teams working for a common goal. Nick Chapallaz, Managing Director, GeoPlace, echoed Catherine’s next point – “When you're looking at the design of a team, it's not ‘here's a team and can we afford to bring in the digital skills, it should be ‘here are the digital skills, what else in the team can afford?’”

    Data holds the key to more efficiency

    There is a consensus that public service reform cannot wait. Now is the time to be thinking about proper redesign, and proper redesign isn't ‘transformation on the side’ – it’s about embedding things like data-driven decision-making right into the heart of every authority. The next step is figuring out what goes around that resource, rather than constantly having digital and data on the outside. Data can drive efficiency into local public services, and ensure an organisation gets the best value out of their partnerships and third-party services, too. As Catherine said “Better use of data is essential in terms of ‘getting off the hamster wheel’ of constantly trying to redesign without enough resources.”

    Nick picked up the theme of efficiency, and how linking location data can help authorities to focus on ‘how to achieve more, with less’. Beyond people, data is the nation’s most valuable asset. We want to make sure we're making decisions and operating processes based on accurate data, so how do we get better quality data into our systems? One of the challenges for local authorities is the temptation to head straight for a new system, to assume technology will solve a problem. There's a bandwagon that’s accelerating through the business landscape, but to get on board safely, we must think about the data we’re using, first. Getting that data right – ensuring it’s authoritative – and treasuring that as a foundation for fiscal stability, is paramount.”

    If we add geospatial elements into our datasets, we can connect people to place – we don’t need to be geography experts, we can see where things are happening and where assets need to be. Where our transport needs to be improved, for example. Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRNs) and Unique Street Reference Numbers (USRNs) and authoritative streets and address data are embedded in every local authority, and it’s something that’s constantly being curated on a day-to-day basis. GeoPlace works in partnership to make sure that data is high quality and high value.

    Nick: “We collect that data and create a national data asset, we enrich it, and publish it via Ordnance Survey as the AddressBase product set – a tool that every authority has access to. It's there to be exploited. It’s the best kept secret, and UPRNs should be at the heart of every organisation.”

    Location data links insights authoritatively

    “Authorities can use UPRNs and USRNs to ask questions on everything from revenues to benefits to social care and vulnerability issues. Linking data enables us to improve accuracy, and knowing we're all dealing with the same entities is crucial for operational efficiency. When we build in authoritative data up-front, we can underpin those better-informed decisions. We can innovate further as well, with the capability for new services – we can apply new technologies, as well. The LGA have been extremely supportive of the work we've been doing, and location data is important for almost everything that's delivered or achieved by councils. Connecting social care and tax benefits, for example. We’ve recently published an investment study that shows, for every £ spent on the Gazetteer in an authority, the organisation is likely to see a return on investment in the order of 6:1.”

    Central government mandates the use of the UPRN and USRN in new systems, and work is under way to ensure that mandate is known about more widely. We've done some deeper dive thinking and analysis with Nottingham City Council as an example. They identified six key areas for step change and improvement across their region. Between 2018 and 2026, there should be an estimated, ongoing uplift of £6.2 million in newly identified business rates, alone.”

    More information on detecting missing local tax revenue is available on the GeoPlace website. There are also more than 300 case studies available, which demonstrate and pull out the ways in which location data can underpin a range of significant improvements and savings for local authorities.

    In addition, GeoPlace has provided tools to help authorities generate procurement criteria for data-focused systems and software – tools that help ensure new systems will are delivering maximum value. Nick concluded, “One of the best examples of using data more intuitively in a local authority – tapping into a ‘best kept secret’ available in the organisation – is to use FindMyAddress, and FindMyStreet. Sponsored by and supported by the LGA, it enables users to see street responsibilities and identify missing streets – particularly where Public Rights of Way records are in play.”

    Location data is the best kept secret

    Many local authorities do not, at the highest levels, realise the full potential of the location data that’s already being used, across their organisation. Nick: “If you're not championing data at all levels of your organisation, that should start at those senior levels.” Over the last 10 years, local government has decelerated somewhat in its ability to achieve ‘great things’ through the use of technology. AI is on the horizon, and residents and customers have even higher expectations – they all know what poor service looks like – but the truth is, every authority does have tools at its disposal to help tackle some of the burdens and challenges we’re all facing. Things like climate change, for example. Health and welfare issues in society. Fraud, lower risk levels, and better use of limited resources.

    Nick concluded, “Find out, what your data strategy is. Ask, who is your Chief Data Officer – not the Information Officer, but the person responsible for data right across your organisation. Review your integration status, use our website to find out your level of preparedness and make the most of LGA resources such as its Data Maturity Tool and UPRN Guide to help you on this journey.” Further resources are available on the GeoPlace website.

    Following is s description of the webinar as published on the LGA website:

    You may not realise it, but all councils have an incredible pool of data at their disposal. Your authority has at least one member of staff responsible for creating location data, which is available for you to use.

    On its own, the data in your systems is limited and only really of value to the service that collected it. But by linking the data, via this location information, you can increase the efficiency of processes as well as gain more insight about your residents and business, in order to target resources more effectively.

    In this webinar, you will hear from a chief executive and a former council leader about how their authorities used this location data to their benefit and the measurable impacts in their authorities; you will come away with an appreciation of how to use the location data, and the value it might bring to your council; and you will be provided with practical steps that you can take to your teams to drive genuine improvement and transformation within your authority.


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